Mental health experts in the past three decades have emphasized the dangers of post-partum depression for mothers, but a University of Kansas researcher says expanding awareness of several other perinatal mental health conditions is important for all new parents, including fathers.
This awareness has become even more critical as "super mom" and "super dad" pressures continue to grow, said Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a KU doctoral candidate in sociology, who will present her study on perinatal mental health disorders at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Perinatal is a term that describes the several weeks before, during, and after birth.
"Both mothers and fathers need to pay attention to their mental health during the perinatal period, and they need to watch for these other types of conditions, not just depression," she said. "Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and bi-polar disorder are all shaped by circumstances that surround having a baby."
As part of her research, Wendel-Hummell who is also a project manager at KU's Center for Research on Aging and Disability Options in the School of Social Welfare, conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with 17 new fathers and 30 new mothers primarily from Kansas and Missouri.
The sample covered a range of low-income to middle-class parents. She did not require a diagnosis of a perinatal mental health condition, but all participants had experienced prolonged symptoms of at least one.
According to Wendel-Hummell, a major focus of her research is to bring together biological and sociological understandings of the problems that new parents face. Medical researchers for years had attributed post-partum depression in new mothers to hormonal changes, despite evidence to the contrary.
"It has been framed so much as being a hormonal disorder, but the evidence there is actually very limited," she said. "Child birth itself is a life change and a life stressor, so actually there's far more evidence that those risk factors are the cause, more so than hormones."
Distressed mothers and fathers in the interviews generally voiced concerns about social problems, including cultural expectations of parenting, relationship stress, family-work balance issues, and struggles with poverty.
At the root of their perinatal mental health issues, low-income parents in the interviews mentioned ongoing struggles to tend to their infant's basic needs in the face of low wages and job insecurity, as well as to secure affordable quality childcare, reliable transportation, and safe housing.
These parents were often unable to afford mental health treatment. Frequently, pregnancy-based Medicaid is cut off after a post birth appointment, which prevents coverage of treatment of post-partum depression or other post-pregnancy mental health disorders, Wendel-Hummell said.
"They aren't getting the support they need," she said.
In terms of middle-class parents, Wendel-Hummell said these people tend to put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect mothers and fathers.
"Middle-class mothers often try to do everything to balance work and home life, and fathers are increasingly attempting to do the same," she said. "This pressure can exacerbate mental health conditions. If everything is not perfect, they feel like failures — and mothers tend to internalize that guilt."
Fathers in her study often suffered stress from working in places that did not have family friendly leave policies and from generally lacking resources to prepare them for fatherhood, Wendel-Hummell said.
Most people also tend to focus on the mother and baby.
"Nobody is asking about the father and how he's doing," she said. "People typically focus on the mom and the infant, so not only is it more difficult for men to express their emotions, nobody is opening up that window for them either."
Wendel-Hummell believes we need to recognize the prevalence of these additional perinatal mental health conditions and, in addition, find ways to screen for them.
"We really only have a screening procedure for depression," she said. "There should be improved screening, and it should be done in the later stages of women's pregnancy and throughout that first year after the baby is born, for both mothers and fathers."
Wendel-Hummell said focusing on implementing social policies (e.g paid maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, and accessible health care coverage) that address the mental health challenges many new parents face is essential. She also emphasizes the need to adjust the cultural expectations around parenting, including reducing pressures to be the perfect parent who can do everything on his or her own, and encouraging parents to accept support from family, friends, and their community.
"We focus way too much on, 'how do we fix this individual,' but we really need to address the state of social and family policy," Wendel-Hummell said.
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.
The paper, "Nature and Culture: Lay Accounts of Perinatal Mental Health Disorders," will be presented on Monday, Aug. 18, at 2:30 p.m. PDT in San Francisco at the American Sociological Association's 109th Annual Meeting.
To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study's author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Daniel Fowler, ASA Media Relations Manager, at (202) 527-7885 or firstname.lastname@example.org. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 16-19), ASA Public Information Office staff can be reached in the on-site press office, located in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square's Union Square 1-2 Room, at (415) 923-7506 or (914) 450-4557 (cell).
This press release was written by George Diepenbrock, Public Affairs Officer, University of Kansas. For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Diepenbrock at (785) 864-8853 or email@example.com.
Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer reviewed journals.
Daniel Fowler | Eurek Alert!
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Life Sciences
26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy